7 ways to survive being a sandwiched family caregiver

7 Ways to Survive Being a Sandwiched Family Caregiver

Today I’m sharing 7 ways to survive being a sandwiched caregiver.  This is an important topic because of the over 44 million unpaid family caregivers in the United States 75% are employed, which means work-life balance for working caregivers is extremely difficult.  When we talked about being sandwiched, we’re talking about balancing the need of taking care of aging parents (or other elderly loved one) and the challenges of raising children under the age of 18. In sharing the seven ways to survive being a sandwiched caregiver, I hope to raise awareness of this important segment of the caregiving population and give you specific tips to help in your journey.  

If you prefer, listen to episode 17 of the Empowered Family Caregiver podcast below to hear this information via audio. 

Family Caregiving Statistics You Need To Know


  • One in eight Americans is a sandwiched family caregiver. 
  • Did you know that 7 to 10 million adults that are caring for aging parents live long distance so they manage caregiving from afar?
  • The average employed caregiver works about 35 hours a week in addition to the over 30 hours of family care on average that is provided. 
  • The loss of productivity, health costs, financial loss and overall financial burden for the caregivers cost United States businesses 34 billion dollars a year.

Caregiving can definitely take a toll on your health.  

  • Research has shown that 17% of caregivers rate their health as fair or poor compared to only 10% of non-caregivers and over 60% of family caregivers will suffer some kind of illness or disease while caregiving.
  • Some caregivers even die before those they care for die. 

Sandwiched Family Caregiving is a vital topic that isn’t talked about enough.

Sandwiched Family Caregiving is a vital topic that isn't talked about enough. Click To Tweet

Overview of the 7 Ways To Survive Being Sandwiched


  1. Set expectations.
  2. Prioritize the balls that matter.
  3.  Get help.
  4.  Take care of yourself.
  5. Talk to your employer.
  6. Be proactive to prevent a crisis.
  7. Pick your battles.

1st Way to Survive Being a Sandwiched Family Caregiver:

Set Expectations


There are four areas where you need to set expectations:

1. Number one is with your children.  When I became a caregiver I sat my kids down and let them know the scope and gravity of the situation with their grandparents. I shared how this was impacting everyone involved including the impact on my time and availability for them whether it be volunteering, attending events, taking them places or even spending time with them in general.  I set those boundaries and expectations right at the beginning with the kids.

2. The second area is with your spouse/partner. This is huge because caregiving can really take a toll on your marriage.  While I was a single mom raising 3 teenagers at the time I was caregiving and I wasn’t married. Truth be told, I was on the tail end of a divorce with my second husband at the time caregiving started.

I did not have the added stress nor did I have the added help of having a partner. If you have a partner or spouse, I strongly recommend that you have periodic, scheduled dates. Your marriage respite time does not have to be long and elaborate or cost a lot of money but it does need to be just the two of you.  Similar to #1, another aspect of setting expectations with your partner is helping them understand the impact on everything. Open communication is key in ensuring that you are taking the time to keep your relationship stable and strong.

3.  The third area is with your parents (or the person you are taking care of). I did the same thing with my parents that I did with my kids. We sat down and discussed how I might not always be there for them because I was spending time with the kids. I also let them know that where possible, we would involve them in attending kids events and such. Keywords here are “where possible”…

4. The fourth area where expectations are crucial is with your employer. It is important to first talk with your supervisor and explain what is happening and share what you need.  Letting them know that you’ve got these added stressors and see if there is anything you can work out with your schedule, work at home options, or if there are any projects or responsibilities with your job that need to be adjusted. For employers with more than 75 employees, Family Medical Leave is an option to explore with your Human Resources department.


The other person you need to have expectations with is yourself! That’s next!

2nd Way to Survive Being a Sandwiched Family Caregiver:     Prioritize the Balls That Matter

7 ways to survive being sandwiched

 We have so many responsibilities and things competing for our attention. In understanding priorities, I like to use a glass or rubber ball analogy. It’s important to understand what priorities are rubber and which ones are glass. If you are to equate each to-do items and responsibility with a ball and you threw them up in the air, would it be a rubber ball that would be okay if it fell to the floor to be done another time or is it a glass ball that would shatter if dropped? Which ‘things’ MUST get done today or nothing else matters? This becomes your top priority. 

The other aspect of this is learning to say no.  Now, as a single mom, I had a lot of guilt. Momma guilt was in full effect because my daughters had choir, karate, piano and they were involved in a youth organization. My son was in football, school clubs and all kinds of other stuff. I said no to PTO, no to the football folks who wanted me to bring goodies for practice and such. It was a real challenge but I had to learn what my yeses were and what my no’s were. Here’s an article with 25 ways to say no graciously. 

 If you want to learn more about seven healthy boundaries, respecting your boundaries, and get seven graceful ways to say no, check out episode two of the Empowered Family Caregiver Podcast where I share a lot more details about that topic. 


3rd Way to Survive Being a Sandwiched Family Caregiver: 

Getting Help Wherever and However You Can

7 Ways to Avoid Being a Sandwiched Caregiver

I understand that you might have financial, physical, time, and/or support system constraints here. I imagine there are things that people can do for you and your loved one that is local to you. There may also be things, like research, budget, etc… that people could help with from a distance. 

The key is to identify where you need help and who might be a good candidate before complete and total overwhelm take over. When people say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do for you”, these are often empty platitudes. However, one thing to do is have your list ready when people say this and go down the list!

Once you have this list of 3-5 things you need help with (I know the list is endless!), start calling people and asking for help. If you get a no, ask if you can call them again in an x time frame. When they say yes, keep them on the list. In instances where people say no, remove them from the list with love.

There are organizations that might be able to help you with a variety of things. I created this curated list of over 120 resources for caregiver respite and support in many different areas. Check out that article HERE for ideas. 

If you want to learn more about how to get help, go back to episode one of my Empowered Family Caregiving podcast where I share my five best tips for getting family to help.

4th Way to Survive Being a Sandwiched Family Caregiver

Take Time For You


Yes, I know you may be thinking, “Tandy, I don’t have time for self-care. I rarely have time to eat. I don’t have time to drink my coffee while it’s hot. Come to think of it, I don’t have time to pee. I barely have time to shower. So, how do you expect me to take time for myself?”

Well, it’s simple. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will eventually not be any good to anybody.

Your kids, partner, and parents need you. I know you don’t need to be reminded of everyone who depends on you. The point is you need you.

One way I coped with my responsibilities was to eat. I gained five pounds a month and I was very much an emotional eater. During the holidays, the average person gains five to eight pounds.  Imagine a year of holidays. That was my life.

Had I done it better, I may have prevented some health issues that manifested as a caregiver and beyond. So, whether it is naps, honoring sleep, doing something you enjoy, listening to music, meditating or the endless ways we can take time for ourselves, I urge you to find a way that works for you and your lifestyle. 

Self care is the new healthcare!

Also important for self-care is finding somebody you can talk to. There may be local or online caregiver support groups. Some of my clients say that they hated in-person support groups but found success with online ones. Other people find value in these groups. Some places to start looking if you are interested includes: 

a.  Check your local newspaper under local events.

b. Check out Meetup.

c. Check local hospitals.

d. Check out different caregiving groups online or through social media that you can take advantage of. You are welcome to join my private and supportive caregiver group HERE

The respite and support article I referenced above has more ideas. I realize that you probably already have the guilt and the overwhelming stress and practicing self-care may sound counterintuitive. Trust me when I tell you it is required.  Even if you spend five minutes a day to start today.  Challenge yourself to just five minutes a day if you are just beginning a self-care practice. 

5th Way to Survive Being a Sandwiched Family Caregiver:

Talk to Your Employer

7 Ways to Survive Being a Sandwiched Family Caregiver

I talked a little bit about this in number one and there’s a couple of different areas you can explore with your employer.

  • You can take either full-time or intermittent family medical leave (FMLA)  if your employer provides that. FMLA allows up to 12-weeks of unpaid leave for a qualifying event with job protection. This means that if you take 12-weeks of leave, your employer must return you to the same or equivalent job and pay. Intermittent leave allows you to take time off for appointments and such while still working. It protects your rights under FMLA against absenteeism or related issues that may arise when you are a family caregiver and it allows you to work and take time off when you need it. This helps your leave benefits stay in-tact longer.


  •   You can ask for a flexible schedule option such as working 4 10-hour days or adjusting your hours. This may or may not work with your employer or job but it’s something that is considered a reasonable accommodation when you need it.


  • See if there’s any work at home opportunities. You might need to change positions or get special permission but that’s an option as well. Telecommuting either part time or full time may or may not work with your employer or job but it’s something that is generally considered a reasonable accommodation in most instances.


  •      Many organizations offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), where they offer free counseling for employees.  I recommend talking to your human resources department about all the different options available to you.

Special Note: Not all employers are going to be hunky dory and happy about these changes. In my experience, most employers haven’t trained management on issues related to family caregiving. Additionally, they may not be very sympathetic or compassionate about your increased caregiving demands. 

However, it’s important that you are honest and upfront about what you can and can’t do and what you need because not saying anything is just going to stress everybody out. It could also result in disciplinary action against you for things that could have been avoided if you are under Family Medical Leave. 

6th Way to Survive Being a Sandwiched Family Caregiver:

Be Proactive to Prevent a Crisis

7 Ways to Avoid Being a Sandwiched Caregiver

Here are some examples and ways that you can be proactive in your caregiving journey:

Prevent falls

1. If your parents or loved ones are prone to falls,  find out if you can get a professional to do a home assessment. A geriatric manager or some other professional who can conduct a home assessment to determine the safety of their living space is important and medical insurance may pay for this.  Do everything you can to prevent a fall because fall risks can have far-reaching health implications for all involved. 

1 in 4 older adults falls every year. Falling once doubles the risk of falling again. Falls are the leading cause of injuries and deaths among older adults. Click To Tweet
  • https://www.medicalguardian.com/1 in 4 older adults falls every year. Falling once doubles the risk of falling again. Falls are the leading cause of injuries and deaths among older adults. After a fall, 90% of older adults who get help within 1 hour will be able to return home. A one-stop provider of medical alert solutions, Medical Guardian is dedicated to helping people like you take the next chapter of their life head-on. 
  • https://www.safetracksgps.com/ Do you have any wanderers in the house? The TRiLOC™ Personal Locator Device from SafeTracks GPS. The TRiLOC™ is a lockable wrist-worn watch that is completely independent of landlines, smartphones, and low tech tracking equipment. The device features Fall Detection, Multiple Geo-Fences (Safe Zones), 2G/3G/4G Cellular and GPS technology as well as 1 Minute Emergency Location Monitoring, notifications are sent to loved ones via email and/or text message.

Manage medications

2. If your parents have memory or other cognitive issues and they take medications, consider having someone manage their medications. There are several options for this:

  •  Have somebody that goes to their home and monitor medication.
  •  You could go every week and lay everything out for them and have very clear instructions. 
  •  Integrate technical options that include options like: 

–   Medication Management: When faced with multiple prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, remembering when to take what pill when and with what can be confusing at best.  Applications such as  PillBox (National Library of Medicine), MedMinder include pill identification tools such as the FDA Drug Database, medication scheduling trackers and reminder alarms―all personalized to fit your requirements. Another company called Simple Meds offers a compliance packaging, full-service pharmacy licensed in all 50 states. Their solution helps seniors age in place and help manage medications more smoothly.  Another solution I found was https://medqpillbox.com/MED-Q if an automatic pill dispenser alarm reminder is the answer.   The smart pillbox remembers so you don’t have to. There are lots of great features here.

– http://reminder-rosie.com/Reminder Rosie is designed to solve the very real daily challenges of memory loss.   With its senior-friendly clock interface, Reminder Rosie is a simple, hands-free, inexpensive solution to remember your medication, appointments, and every-day tasks.

– Medisafe is an app to monitor medications, see side effects to watch out for, and more. Doctors can also use this app to connect with patients.

Monitor financial assets

3.  If you are seeing cognitive impairments in your loved ones, you can ensure that bill pay is setup or maybe you or another family member take oversight of their financial well-being. If your loved ones are still paying their own bills, I recommend having oversight to ensure their bills get taken care of on time and that they aren’t victims of scams, financial abuse, 0r the like. 

Watch for depression and symptoms of loneliness or isolation

4. Another area to be proactive with your parents is watching for depression. If possible, schedule social activities so they don’t become isolated. 

Over 70% of aging people fear loneliness more than they fear death.

Over 70% of aging people fear loneliness more than they fear death. Click To Tweet

The last thing you need is to deal with mental illness and depression on top of everything else. 

Get to the doctor

5. The last area for this article about being proactive is assuring that your parents get to their doctor’s appointments on a timely basis.      P.S. That goes for YOU, too! 

7th Way to Survive Being a Sandwiched Family Caregiver:

Pick Your Battles 

7 Ways to Avoid Being Sandwiched

I had to learn how to pick my battles with everyone and everything. When my daughter came out of her room one day with green dye in her hair and wanted to know if we liked it, I quietly said, “it doesn’t matter what we think. What matters is whether YOU like your hair.” She came home from school with regular hair that day.   I had countless opportunities to pick my battles.

My dad was very independent before his accident.  He really liked putting his shirt on without help. This was really important to him.  Sometimes it would take him forty to forty-five minutes to put on a shirt.

Most days his shirts would go on backward. At times, his socks wouldn’t match. Most of the time they did. Instead of fighting with him about this or trying to rush him I let my kids and my parents do what they could.  

I did my best to help them have a sense of independence even if they really weren’t independent. In my case, my parents lived with us. In episode eight of the Empowered Family Caregiver podcast, I shared six ways to help loved ones seem more independent even if they live with you. Check out that episode here: 

And the same goes with your children and your spouse. Your kids may not clean the way you like but is it worth getting upset over? It’s important to have and respect boundaries. Kids will test your boundaries even more while you are taking care of your parents. Trust me on that. 

Kids will test your boundaries even more while you are taking care of your parents. Trust me on that. Click To Tweet

Setting expectations and boundaries is important. Pick your battles.  Collaboration is always better than confrontation.

Want more articles like this? 

Here are 5 ways to prevent others from taking your precious energy! https://tandyelisala.com/5-ways-to-prevent-others-from-taking-your-energy/

Want more positivity in your life? Here are great affirmations for any time of the year: https://tandyelisala.com/best-affirmations-to-end-the-year/

While we are talking about being sandwiched, here are 5 best ways to plan your life and legacy so you worry less and live more: https://tandyelisala.com/5-best-ways-to-plan-your-life-and-legacy-and-worry-less-and-live-more/

Next Step:

Discover your unique caregiver personality and get tips to leverage your strengths so you can be the best caregiver possible! http://bit.ly/familycaregivingquiz


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Tandy Elisala

Family Caregiver Coach, Cancer Empowerment Advocate and Chief Inspiration Officer at Center for Inspiring Greatness | Empowered Family Caregiver
Tandy Elisala is passionate about helping family caregivers go from being overwhelmed and stressed to empowered and calm. Tandy went through cancer four times and learned how to heal using conventional, complementary, and alternative therapy. Tandy left her corporate career to take care of both parents simultaneously while raising three kids as a single mom. She took care of both parents for 2 1/2 years until their respective deaths. Tandy now teaches what she learned on her journey. Tandy is a family caregiver coach, a multiple best-selling author, inspirational speaker and mom to three adult kids, one angel dog and one diva cat.

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